Set to stir

PUBLISHED : Friday, 01 May, 1998, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 01 May, 1998, 12:00am

Murphy Brown (Pearl, 6.50pm) is back for a new series tonight. This is the one that caused such a stir when it was aired last year in the United States.

We pick up tonight where we left off last time, with Murphy off to take up her new job spin-doctoring for President Bill Clinton.

Needless to say, that does not last long. Murphy could never leave her journalism roots for long.

The controversy was inspired not by where Murphy is working, but what happens when she and Kay (Lily Tomlin) are inspired by Corky's report on mammograms to get checked out.

Kay is freaked out by the possibility her results may reveal something; Murphy is totally relaxed about it, which in sitcom terms can only mean one outcome. These test results are going to be the backbone of the rest of the series.

The trademark of Murphy Brown has always been Candice Bergen and her hard-nosed put-downs, and there are going to be some of those in this series.

But it looks as if Tomlin is going to do the comedy, and Bergen the drama this time. Is this what sitcom heroines are supposed to do? Not a lot of laughs in Murphy's bleak medical diagnosis. Was this storyline a blatant attempt to up the ratings, or a brave attempt to deal with a real life issue facing thousands of women Murphy's age? We will have to wait and see.

Shaheed (CNN, 9pm) provokes the same thoughts about the motives of the programme makers. It is an astonishing unprecedented look at the young Palestinian men who volunteer to become suicide bombers, and includes several interviews with those who, for one reason or another, were unable to complete their mission.

It is easier to understand CNN's decision to schedule this programme tonight, in the week when Israel marks its 50th anniversary. Shaheed means martyr, and these young men all share the belief that by blowing themselves up along with as many Jews as possible, they will go straight to Paradise.

Mahmud was a quiet boy, one of seven children in a poor Palestinian family, who was recruited by Hamas agents a few weeks after his marriage. He was, and is, so convinced by the stories those agents told him that when he woke up in an Israeli hospital after the detonator exploded, injuring only him and not the Jewish passers-by, he thought he was in heaven. An Israeli intelligence man could only convince him of the truth by asking: 'Are there Jews in Paradise?' Mahmud's family are extremely bitter about the way he was taken in by the Hamas claims. 'These boys are victims!' says one of his brothers. 'They actually draw pictures of heaven for them.' As the film makes clear, in a sense he is right. All the bombers seem almost pathetically ignorant and gullible. One tells how he was told if he allowed himself to be blown up, he would be able to take his friends and family to heaven with him.